I’m skipping sacrament meeting on Sunday because I have learned from sad experience that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Someone will praise motherhood as the most sainted calling on God’s good earth. Someone else (or possibly the first person who is on a roll and can’t stop) will extol the virtues of one mother in particular, one who bore fifty-seven children and never complained, one who found time to attend to all of her children’s needs and still bake cookies for every other child in the neighborhood. We will be informed that tiny bluebirds woke up early every morning just to braid that woman’s hair.
Many of the mothers in the room will sink a little lower in their pews, praying for the barrage of pedestal rhetoric to end soon so they can grab the annual offering of chocolate or a potted plant and move on with their imperfect lives already. Most of the women who have never had children, either because of infertility or other factors, will sink the lowest of all and leave the chapel with a heavy heart. No chocolate or flowers will ever be enough to assuage that pain.
Planning a Mother’s Day meeting is a minefield for any Mormon bishop. All of the speechifying about motherhood (too much of which is provided by men) makes most women who are actual mothers feel like their efforts will never be good enough. Being told that they are innately virtuous and spiritual does not square with the way many of them actually feel most of the time. And for some women, Mother’s Day is painful not only because of its absurd idealization of motherhood but because of its reminders that in LDS Church administration, women are routinely overpraised and underutilized.
It doesn’t have to be this way. One concern that I have is that planning a Mother’s Day-themed sacrament meeting undermines the actual purpose of gathering together for church: to worship God. Whenever we make idols to suit our own purposes – even when those idols are seemingly innocuous ones like motherhood and family – we have forgotten what church is supposed to be about.
The most obvious way to honor God on Mother’s Day is to focus on how God is like a mother (or, in Mormon theology, how there is a Mother God). In the New Testament, Jesus pictures God this way when he speaks of God gathering children like a mother hen wants to collect her brood under her wings (Matthew 23 and Luke 13). In the Old Testament, God is often discussed as the one who opens wombs; in fact, the Hebrew word for “mercy” and “compassion” is derived from the same three-radical root as the word for “womb.” Isaiah asks us whether a mother can forget her nursing child, then affirms that this is exactly how God feels about Israel: God will not forsake her (Isaiah 49). And Hosea, the parent-prophet, compares God’s fierce protectiveness of Israel to the way a bereaved mama bear will respond if her cubs are taken away (Hosea 13).
There are plenty of biblical examples here, as well as ones from LDS church history. God is like a mother. But here is my favorite example, found not in the scriptures but in the wise cadences of Margaret Wise Brown. In the classic children’s story The Runaway Bunny, a rebellious bunny tries every conceivable method it can think of to flee its mother’s love. “If you run away, I will run after you,” the mother responds calmly. “For you are my little bunny.” In every scenario the little bunny proposes, the mother inserts herself into its plans: she will be the tree that it comes home to, the wind that blows its sailboat, the mountain climber who scales a mountain for a dramatic rescue.
The God I worship is very much like this, hunting me down to gather me in her arms and remind me of who I am—and whose I am. And at the end of all my peregrinations, this mother-God will hold me and simply say, “Have a carrot.”
The Mother's Day image is used with permission of Shutterstock.com.